The majority of New Zealand secondary schools offer NCEA as their qualification. The standards-based system was established in 2002, and is currently undergoing a revamp.
Currently, students study a number of courses or subjects each year. In each subject, skills and knowledge are assessed against a number of standards. Assessments can be internal or external assessments. When a student achieves a standard, they gain a number of credits.
Every year about 120,000 students gain an NCEA. There are three levels of the NCEA certificate, with students working through Levels 1–3 in Years 11–13 at school.
Changes to the qualification include strengthening literacy and numeracy requirements, having fewer, larger standards, and simplifying the structure of NCEA.
While some schools have opted out of offering NCEA from the beginning, a larger number of schools offer the national qualification along with international alternatives.
The UK-based Cambridge International (formerly Cambridge International Examinations) is one such programme.
Roger Franklin-Smith is senior country manager (Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific) for Cambridge International (CI).
He said CI had “evolved substantially” since it was first introduced to New Zealand in the early 2000s.
“Once primarily an internationally focused assessment and qualifications provider, it now offers a complete education service to students and schools in over 160 countries.”
He said CI was the largest provider of international education for school-aged children in the world.
“Cambridge International provides a modern, progressive and comprehensive education service that engages learners, supports teachers and advances schools.”
The curriculum was standards-based, with ‘age-appropriate learning experiences’, he said.
It offered four educational programmes – covering primary, lower secondary, upper secondary, and advanced learners.
“Each is designed to develop and build upon prior learning and understanding. They promote the use of modern and evidence-based pedagogy through what we call ‘active learning’.”
He said a key difference between CI and other education systems was that learning within a syllabus or subject was typically much broader and in more depth.
“We believe there needs to be a foundation of knowledge and understanding in order for the acquisition of further learning and understanding to be successful.”
CI did not “scale learner performance to some theoretical standardisation curve,” he said.
“Assessment reflects the actual levels of understanding and skill acquisition demonstrated by the learner. This ensures, through our assessment principles and practice, that the qualifications obtained by learners in different parts of the world are equitable and transparent.”
Assessments were also not entirely exam-based, Franklin-Smith said.
“Many subjects include assessments in the form of coursework. For example, art and design requires the submission of a portfolio of the student’s work during the course of study, and music requires the submission of a recorded performance which may be performed in front of a live audience.”
Also on offer at some schools is the International Baccalaureate (IB). It has been taught in New Zealand since 1986, with 26 schools currently using it.
Asia Pacific marketing spokeswoman Indra Ang said it offered four education programmes to students aged between three and 19 years old.
“Through unique curriculums with high academic standards, we champion critical thinking and flexibility for learning by crossing disciplinary, cultural and geographical boundaries.”
Its middle years programme – for students aged 11 to 16 – was a concept-based curriculum.
“It emphasises intellectual challenge, encouraging students to make practical connections between their studies and the real world through the process of inquiry.”
For the final two years of secondary school, students move onto a diploma programme.
“It is a rewarding and academically challenging programme of education that prepares students for success at university and life beyond study.”
Students study six subjects over two years – language acquisition, sciences, the arts, mathematics, individuals and societies, and studies in language and literature.
Three additional requirements – the theory of knowledge course, the extended essay and at least 150 hours of creativity, activity and service tasks outside of the classroom – must also be completed.
In the diploma, exams formed the basis of the assessment for most courses due to their high levels of objectivity and reliability, Ang said.
“However, rather than asking students to purely regurgitate information, the assessment procedures are designed to measure the extent to which students have mastered advanced academic skills.”